Defining Moment

Forty years later, "local yokels" take pride in covering tragedy

Those who chronicled the event are not among the many who subscribe to the voluminous conspiracy theories that have become a cottage industry. "I found it interesting," says Krys Boyd Villasenor, the writer/producer of KERA's documentary, which will air nationally on November 19, "that during my seven months of interviews, none of them had any doubt that Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy." Only one--Wes Wise, former KRLD reporter and later mayor of Dallas--admitted even the slightest concern that the entire story has not yet been told.

What impressed Villasenor, 32, were the anecdotes--the ironies, the examples of instinct and inventiveness, the earnest approach of men just beginning their journalism careers. It was a time, she points out, when the world of journalism was primarily populated by white males. If you were a female newspaper reporter, you did puff pieces for the "women's section" and left the real fact-finding to the guys. "Still," Villasenor says, "I detected a remarkable amount of chivalry in the men I met. And they were guys who lived and died for the stories they worked on."

For example, radio station WBAP discovered on that weekend that the truck it routinely used for doing live reports in the field was broken down. What to do? They simply hooked it up to a wrecker and hauled it wherever it was needed. "What everyone was doing," recalls former Channel 8 news director Bert Shipp, father of current WFAA reporter Brett Shipp, "was figuring out ways to make things work and get the story told."

The Dallas media fit in well with the Big Boys in covering the JFK assassination.
Photo by the Dallas Times Herald
The Dallas media fit in well with the Big Boys in covering the JFK assassination.

Like he did when contacted by a cameraman, Tom Alyea, who had managed to get inside the School Book Depository where police were searching for the assassin and his weapon. "He called and told me where he was and that he had shot some really great stuff but didn't know how he was going to get it to the station. The police had locked the building down and weren't allowing anyone out." The solution? In less than 15 minutes, a station employee was standing beneath a window from which Alyea dropped canisters of film to him.

Despite the tension, there were light moments. The photo of Oswald and Ruby taken by Beers of the Morning News quickly went out on The Associated Press photo wire. In Tarrant County, Star-Telegram editors were busily putting out an "extra" edition. Bottom line: The Fort Worth paper beat the Morning News into print with its own picture. Villasenor smiles as she passes along a story Schieffer told her. "When the Star-Telegram delivery truck arrived in Dallas," she says, "he quickly got a bundle of the papers and stood in front of the Morning News building, passing them out."

Looking back, all agree they were part of something that bonded them, a tragedy, and test, they weathered.

"I was blessed to have been able to test my abilities on that story," Shipp says. "Still, I'd rather it have been another one, at another time, another place. It kinda broke everyone's heart."

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